Grand Master Ostad Mary Ellen Donald

Nationally Acclaimed Author, Instructor and Performer in Middle Eastern Percussion for over thirty years and Masters Degree in Psychiatric Social Work.

Mary Ellen Donald was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In her early days she studied classical piano, voice, and both folk and flamenco guitar. In 1969 she was introduced to the art of belly dance, which she studied with Jamila Salimpour and Bert Balladine for six years. Very soon she fell in love with the passionate Middle Eastern music that accompanies the dance. Also in 1969 she took up the study of finger cymbals and doumbec (clay or metal lap drum also known as darabouka and tabla). Several years later she added the riqq (Middle Eastern tambourine) and tar (wooden frame drum).

Soon Mary Ellen’s innate teaching ability came to the fore as she started teaching classes and putting her knowledge of Middle Eastern percussion into written form. In 1976 she self-published Doumbec Delight and Mastering Finger Cymbals, both firsts in their field, followed by Arabic Tambourine in 1985. Mary Ellen produced companion tapes for these books as she realized that students would learn more easily if they could hear her play the examples in the books a number of times. In the later ‘90s she expanded her educational and artistic materials with two series: Middle Eastern Rhythms (four recordings with booklets containing musical notation), and Gems of the Middle East (three volumes of recordings and books).

Mary Ellen has taught workshops and performed with Middle Eastern bands in most of the major cities throughout the U.S. For over twenty-five years she has maintained a large student body in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mary Ellen takes her fiery percussion performances into elementary schools under the auspices of Young Audiences of the Bay Area, and some years ago with Adventures in Music with the San Francisco Symphony. She brings her lecture demonstrations to colleges as well. Mary Ellen is acclaimed not only as author, instructor, and performer, but also as a producer of major Middle Eastern music and dance events over the past twenty-five years.

Mary Ellen Donald’s musical accomplishments are noteworthy and even more so because she is blind. She plays her drums and lives her life with joy in her heart. She is blessed with a large community of students and friends who love her. Her latest musical passion is that of jazz singing.

Rhythm and Reason Series, Cymbals, Beyond Basics by Mary Ellen Donald, Article 1,

Originally published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing column. This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto, California.

Back in the '70s I recieved this question that is still pertinent today:

"I have been dancing and playing cymbals for sometime now. I can get through a piece of music with my cymbals but I don't feel very creative while doing so. I would appreciate your offering me some suggestions for improving my overall cymbal playing."

Here is my advice this young dancer:

Based on what you've said, I'm going to assume that you can already play the "gallop" and "singles" patterns (what I call basic and alternating strokes), that you are holding your cymbals properly, and that you know how to alter the tone of your cymbals. Below I would like to list some essentials to keep in mind if you'd like to get beyond the mediocre level of cymbal playing.

1. Increase the strength in your hands and fingers. You have to have enough strength in your hands and fingers to execute intricate patterns smoothly and with speed. You will be helped toward such strength if when you practice cymbals separate from your dancing, you hold your arms fairly stationary out front, forcing your fingers and hands to work instead of receiving the strength from larger arm movements. Also, I would suggest two simple exercises.

A. Strike both cymbals together in both hands simultaneously as a long stroke and then play a quick right and left stroke afterwards, resulting in a pattern sounding like the "gallop."

B. Play alternating strokes beginning with your left hand and accent the first of every four strokes. These exercises are especially helpful for the left hand. Whether you begin with your left or your right, eventually try to play alternating strokes continuously through two or three minutes of a moderate tempo piece of 4/4 music. Whenever you find yourself jerking your hands, slow down. A smooth sound is very important.

2. Familiarize yourself with some basic concepts of rhythm and allow this knowledge to free up your imagination as you choose rhythmical variations.

One such useful concept is that involving the filling in and emptying of spaces.

That is, if the original pattern that you learn calls for one sound at a given beat, say, count 4-and, you can substitute two, three, four sounds, etc. for that one. You just have to remember to make the multiple sounds take up the same amount of time as the original single sound. So with one basic pattern in mind, you can play numerous variations. Learning how to count time evenly should be another essential part of your rhythmical training. Also you should become familiar with the concepts of syncopation and counterpoint. Keep in mind that rhythmical expertise cannot replace your imagination but rather enrich its possibilities.

3. Learn the accents of the Middle Eastern rhythms popular within your dance music. It's not necessary that you reflect the accents of a rhythm continuously but it's important to be able to pick up the accents with cymbals and/or body when you wish to.

Sometimes you will want to coincide with the accents of the drummer and other times you will play over the rhythm and be in counterpoint with the drummer.

Each rhythm has a distinct arrangement of accents. If you are sure of where these accents come, you can bring a unique flavor to each section of your routine.

4. Play your cymbals with good taste. More often than not you are probably dancing to recorded music, so you have the opportunity to study the music and decide ahead of time on what type of cymbal patterns would be appropriate for each section. If you hear the drummer playing a series of fancy, perhaps syncopated strokes, then you should probably keep simple and not muddy up the sounds with additional intricacies. On the other hand, when the drummer is playing quite simply, you might choose to embellish your playing more. Remember to aim at a pleasing totality involving your movements, your cymbals, and the various instruments in the band. Showing off at the wrong time can destroy the beauty of the whole presentation. Also, in keeping with tasteful playing, remember to play cymbals delicately when the melody instruments are playing gentle solos. Good taste might also help you to decide to play solid baladi accents with very little filler when the band is playing slow heavy baladi. You probably would sound out of place if you at that time tried to throw in all kinds of delicate and fancy variations.

When the rhythm is not being enunciated so clearly, maybe a mellow bass keeping the beat in the background, then following the melody line or inventing a light filler type of sound with your cymbals might bring out the best in the music.

One final comment on this topic of taste. Many question whether or not the dancer should play cymbals during the drum solo.

I think that you can add to the excitement of a drum solo if you can play cymbals very well, fast enough, smooth enough, and syncopated enough at times.

Also, if you are playing to a drum solo that you have memorized and can pick up all of the breaks, you might consider playing cymbals. If you don't have such expertise, then please don't play your cymbals during the drum solo. If dancing to live music, you might ask the drummer's preference on your playing or not playing cymbals on the solo.

5. Finally, I'd like to urge you to play your cymbals assertively with feeling. All of the rhythmical knowledge in the world will not make your dancing and cymbal playing touch and transform your audience. I would hasten to add that playing cymbals just from a sense of what you call feeling without knowing anything about counting or rhythm in general or Middle Eastern rhythms more specifically can be a disaster. Just as in other aspects of life, it's very important that you balance knowledge and feeling. Let the music call forth a celebration of life's beauty from within you. Let your cymbals sing out this celebration.

Rhythm and Reason Series, Special Experiences, Article 2

Rhythm is on my mind. I’m thinking back on some very special experiences which some of my bellydancing friends and I shared – experiences spotlighting Middle Eastern rhythms. I’d like to share some details about these so that you might see clearly how you can enrich your bellydance performance with rhythmical fun and excitement.

Belly dance and Flamenco

We couldn’t believe we were there – I and my 6-piece Middle Eastern Drum Ensemble at the Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco with an audience of 1,800, providing an accompaniment for the famous flamenco performer and instructor, Cruz Luna, and the outstanding flamenco dancer and professional bellydancer, Reyna Alcala. We are performing Arabic Suite as part of the Ole! Ole! Spanish Dance Company’s flamenco presentation. The stage is darkened; a single light begins to shine on Reyna; flamenco guitar breaks the silence, Reyna begins a standing taqsim, the singer Isa Mura wails her lament and fades

One drum along with a tambourine plays a sensuous bolero as Reyna slowly moves around the stage. Shrill zaghareets, the entire drum ensemble plays a powerful Baladi rhythm as Cruz suddenly appears onstage; their spirited duet in Baladi ensues.

They begin a floor taqsim, the music changes to a sweet 4/4 Spanish rhythm – the Zambra – with tambourine, guitar and singer joining the ensemble. Music is enriched with cymbals, then one drum enters. Cruz begins clapping Baladi and dancing the debke; guitar and singing fade and full drum ensemble takes over with excitement and drama building. The mazhar, giant Egyptian tambourine, adds its outrageous sound, hitting accents wildly. Our ensemble abruptly shifts into 3-3-2 pattern, Spanish Rhumba and the guitar player and singer rejoin with fiery finale.

Mainly of flamenco aficionados, our audience gave our Arabic Suite a clamorous response. This liason of Belly dance and flamenco had begun as a flash of imagination in Cruz’ mind! He asked me what the rhythms should be in a typical, short Belly dance routine. I told him, “They are usually Baladi, Chifte-telli, and Baladi again.” Starting with that stark schema, we each came up with some “Couldn’t we add this?” and “How about that?” and ended up with a more sophisticated presentation.

I have shared these details about our Arabic Suite so that you may envision how shifts in mood, tempo, and instrumentation incorporate into a performance effectively. It could go, without saying, that to do this successfully requires a great deal of rehearsing! With all of this, I’m not suggesting that you run out and look for the nearest flamenco artist with whom to join forces next month for a show. It takes a great deal of professional experience and creativity to combine Arabic and Spanish forms of dance. My hope is that you realize the versatility of Middle Eastern percussion rhythms so that you utilize them more imaginatively.

Rhythm Night at the Bagdad

Have you heard about the student nights that we periodically present at Belly dance cabarets in the San Francisco area? During such events an array of students from one or two dance instructors take the place of the professional dancers usually scheduled for the evening. Often these students are enjoying the experience of dancing with live Middle Eastern music for the first time. In this way the students get a chance to see what it feels like to be a professional dancer in a night club setting. "Then why not have such an evening for drum students?" you may ask. We did just that.

Last December George Dabaie, drummer at the Bagdad Cabaret in San Francisco and I co-sponsored a drum student night. Thirteen of our students took turns sitting in with George Elias, owner of the club and oudist and vocalist, for 10-minute sets. Some of them performed in pairs; most took the drummer’s seat alone! Many professional (and some student) dancers performed that evening. With dance, cymbals, drum, and tambourine, rhythm was in the spotlight. In keeping with this emphasis my drum ensemble performed an Egyptian drum number that we copied sound for sound from a solo from a tape which Bert Balladine brought from Cairo last fall. In previous drum ensemble presentations we had created our own arrangements using Middle Eastern rhythms as the base. This was the first time we had tried to reproduce the exact sounds that one would hear in the Middle East. We found work on this number an exciting challenge as well as a real enrichment to our rhythmical repertoire. The grand finale of Rhythm Night came with a guest performance of Khadija Rabanne. In addition to performing her famous standing and floor taqsims, Khadija danced to two of her favorite fast selections: Feiruz’ Kaan Azzamen as sung in a well-known Lebanese musical, and Taroub’s Ya Sitty Ya Khitara, a lively Spanish rhumba with dramatic breaks. Guest drummer Nilu Khalil who is also a professional dancer matched Khadija’s rhythmical ability in the dance, and they performed a completely rehearsed drum solo, taken sound-for-sound from one of the solos on the album Belly Dance! Spectacular Rhythms of the Middle East. No one in the audience could doubt the amount of time and energy that went into such a well-coordinated drum solo. Again I am sharing these details in hopes that you will seek out more ways to have fun with rhythm.

Bellydance in Concert

When we go to see bellydance productions we usually see too many bellydancers. When we go to see productions with a variety of dance forms represented, we usually don’t see any Belly dancers. This situation was not so in Berkeley, California on December 17, 1977. That evening at the Berkeley Community Little Theater, “Harvest for the World” was presented as a benefit for Everybody’s Creative Arts Center of Oakland. Well-know Bay Area dance companies performed Modern, Jazz, Tap, Latin, and African dances. One Belly dancer appeared in this show – Khadija Rabanne. If you had been there, you would have been proud of your profession that evenin!. Khadija performed with Nilu Khalil on tambourine and doumbec and me playing doumbec and mazhar. Egyptian Suite was what we called it.

With Khadija’s permission given, I’ll spell out the rhythmical and instrumental changes we incorporated within a 10-minute performance. We tried to capture the flavor of Egyptian style music and dance, of course using our own imagination to embellish the rhythmical schema.

1. Masmoudi, starting with cymbals, then tambourine, then drum;
2. single doum baladi, 8 simple measures;
3. baladi, improvised with solid heavy accents;
4. single doum baladi, 4 simple measures;
5. chifte-telli, 4 slow patterns filling in and opening up the last beat dramatically together;
6. 3-3-2 patterns, fast and light, speeding up and going directly into the slow section;
7. bolero, slow with Khadija showing off her abdominal control and snaky hand and finger movements;
8. bolero, fast for a North African style floor taqsim;
9. baladi as Khadija rises, Nilu playing drum instead of tambourine now – two drums beating as Khadija gets audience clapping loudly, then I begin with mazhar. (This giant Egyptian tambourine, about 14 inches in diameter with cymbals 3 ½ inches in diameter, beautifully inlaid, usually causes a flurry of excitement in an audience just as I pick it up. Then the powerful sound just drives them crazy.);
10. 6/8, 8 measures with a thunderous boom at the end.

We (in the ensemble) wanted you to know the details of our Egyptian Suite not just to dazzle your brain but to excite within you the fantasy of your doing something similar. Given the scarcity of musicians who can play the melodic Middle Eastern instruments, we encourage you to work on similar presentations using percussion creatively. Of course we should add that we don’t think that a typical 5-part or 3-part Belly dance routine can be performed as effectively with percussion only. It’s the many and dramatic rhythmical changes that made our suite what it was. In short, we are very pleased with the results of combining high quality Belly dancing with high quality percussion. We wish the same for you.
Community Warfare, Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 3

Time and again I hear dancers deplore the fact that in many parts of the country there are warring camps among dancers; that is, groups that openly oppose each other and that try to keep all useful information and all jobs to themselves. Yes, I too feel that it would be more fulfilling if we spent our energy sharing and creating rather than fighting and destroying.

I often view the battle tactics used as pitiful and sometimes downright absurd. However, I’m beginning to wonder if this open warfare, draining as it can sometimes be, isn’t easier to deal with than the hostility that sometimes comes from people who claim to be friendly or at least neutral.

So that you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, I’m going to list below some pertinent experiences which have been brought to my attention over the past year. (I’m sure you could enrich this list if you think about it for a few moments.)

1. You plan a big seminar bringing a famous out-of-town guest instructor, announce your plans and the date six months before the event. A couple of months after you announce this event, one of the dancers in your area who has been advocating sharing “all for the good of the art” puts out the word that she is bringing another well-known guest instructor to the area two weeks before your seminar and is charging less than you had announced. Then you know you are the victim of hostility.

I’d like to make it clear from the beginning that I know that there are times when two dancers in an area bring in guest instructors a week or two apart simply out of non-communication and lack of sharing rather than out of deliberate hostility. I would only suspect maliciousness if I had information that substantiated that.

I don’t think that a solution to the problem would be to keep it a secret that you are having a guest instructor until a couple of weeks before the event. You might succeed in fooling your hostile associate but you will also succeed in having only a handful of participants attend. I wouldn’t advise fighting hostility with more hostility. Be more clever than that. Besides, it’s a waste of energy. Just be aware of where your genuine support comes from.

2. When you put on a seminar and invite local dancers to be your guest performers in the show and in return you offer them the two-day seminar free, and the dancers don’t bring even one of their students to attend the seminar and they themselves don’t even take a peak into any of the classes, then you certainly know that these dancers are not your supportive associates. Yes, you hoped that this gesture of goodwill on your part by inviting them to have the honor of performing at such an event would bring a few more people to the seminar itself. You probably learned that it takes more than goodwill to soften the fears of those people who so desperately try to keep their students away from the sometimes illuminating affects of outside instruction.

3. When you see your name casually mentioned in small print on a flier that advertises a seminar in which you are obviously the main draw and when the seminar is over you find yourself abandoned in a hotel with a message that you should find your own way to the airport, then you can believe that you were on the other end of some hostility.

Certainly when you put on a seminar there are many details for you to remember and sometimes you forget things, but to forget your main instructor seems a little blatant to go overlooked. It’s probably no comfort to you to realize that the hostility from your sponsor was more than likely unconscious; that is, unintentional. That doesn’t change the effects of the sponsor’s actions. Not that you should be mean in return. But you might question a little more your undying loyalty in the future.

4. You work for six months to put on a high quality seminar and one of your associates tells you that the guest instructor is a good friend of hers and she will do everything she can to support your seminar and you find out later that she didn’t announce the seminar to her students or announced it so casually that it had no impact. She puts on several small workshops in your area a couple of weeks before your seminar and as a result brings no one to the seminar, then surely you have experienced some hostility here.

No, you don’t go around denouncing her. That’s silly. You just know that in the future you can’t count on her.

5. You invite one of the bellydance publications to cover a very big seminar that you are putting on. You pay for refreshments for three staff members of the publication, arrange that they might have special interviews with the guest instructors and in the publication you see a photo of one of the staff members with the grand guest instructor. You read a glorious romanticized account of the event, read quotes from random samples of people who attended the seminar, and then it dawns on you that your name is not mentioned in the article – not even in the most casual way.

You have been treated hostily and there’s no explaining of that away. How many times do you have to experience similar treatment before you will believe that there are certain people in your world who don’t wish to be fair in their treatment of you, let alone supportive?

No, you don’t publicly denounce them unless you are itching for a cause to occupy your time with. You just have to stop deluding yourself. They have nothing to offer you.

Let these examples speak for themselves. I’d like to close with this thought for you to consider. Sometimes being too nice means being foolish.

For whom do you dance? Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 4

This article is probably most relevant to those of you who do cabaret style dancing. Who do you dance for – your audience or yourself? Take a trip with me to see how you compare with the hypothetical dancers speaking below.

1. (Before show) “I really want to please them. I enjoy subtleties of movement and rhythm, but my guess is that most of them wouldn’t appreciate such things as syncopation or counterpoint – so I’ll minimize that sort of stuff. For their sake I’ll do lots of exaggerated hip thrusts, many flashy spins, smile a lot of course, and be sure to put in a little humor because that gets them every time.”

Little does this dancer, whom we’ll call Selloutina, know that her desperate need to do what pleases her audience holds back the very creativity which would please them even more.

(After show) “They seemed to enjoy my dance. I hope they did. They were smiling a lot. Then again, they didn’t really seem that excited. I wish I had the courage to do what I really like. I feel a little empty inside. But they liked it so that’s what counts.”

2. (Before show) “I really want to dazzle them with my technique. I can’t stand a dancer who is boring, one who only does a few steps over and over again. People can’t help but be impressed with all of the steps that I can put into one dance. Never a dull moment?”

I have to let you in on a secret. This dancer, whom we’ll call Technica, plays the numbers game. She knows that she can do one hundred and ten different steps plus a dozen gimmicks. Can’t you just picture her with pocket calculator in hand, adding up the number of steps the other dancers use? Deep down in her calculating heart she feels that she has to top the highest number so far.

She might just spice up her dance by balancing a pot on her head and a sword on each shoulder, while a snake slithers around her. If she could, she’d also be flipping coins with her belly rolls – and if she, by chance, spotted me in the audience, she’d try to get those coins flipping in counterpoint.

Little does she know that some of the finest dancing can involve a few steps performed with artistry and drama.

(After show) “Whew! I’m glad that’s over with! That was sure hard work!. Now I can relax and enjoy myself. Well, at least I didn’t bore them. One of my students was so impressed, she came up to me and kept asking, “How did you do it? How did you do it?” Come to think of it, I could have impressed them even more if I’d remembered that new step I learned last week. Oh well, I’ll be sure to put that one in next time.”

3. (Before show) “I’m going to do just what I feel like doing. If they don’t like it, that’s tough! I know where my head’s at and that’s all that counts. I’m not about to lower my energy level for the sake of their approval.”

This dancer, whom we’ll call Arroganza, is the kind of person who goes around talking about her own enlightenment. She would benefit from the advice of the Sufi saying, ‘Those who know don’t tell and those who tell don’t know.’ In the guise of acting out of integrity, she takes a stance that in actuality is hostile toward others.

Her negativity is apt to call forth crude or snide responses from the audience – responses which she will cite as evidence for her theory that most people are not lofty enough to appreciate her.

Isn’t it odd that a person who so disdains the general public would choose to be a professional bellydance?

(After show) “I feel so high, so exhilarated. I could dance all night even if they weren’t here. I wonder if anyone got the real meaning of what I was doing.”

Now that you have checked yourself out on this trip, come a little further with me. I think that the question “Who am I dancing for, the audience or myself” is part of the problem. You end up answering with an either/or response instead of with a both/and response. Consider this alternative position: you dance so that you and your audience can feel good. Putting it another way, you perform so that you and your audience can move to another level of consciousness – temporarily beyond worrying about taxes, big government, scarcity of babysitters and whatever else you like to worry about. You can’t make yourself or anyone else change levels of consciousness. All you can do is lay the groundwork for that to happen. In a way, you are inviting life to work its magic – to inspire. When you allow yourself to be inspired, you are open to life’s regenerative powers. When this happens, in the words of my friend, Nakish, “You go beyond being a dancer. You become an entertainer. You and your audience are in harmony with each other.”

Here’s how Bert Balladine, an entertainer indeed, describes this experience: “When I’m at my best during a performance, I feel joyous and am inviting the audience to rejoice with me at being alive. I think that the significant thing that happens is that many people in the audience vicariously are dancing along with me – the men identifying with me and the women identifying with my partner. We no longer are separate beings – we partake of a universal being.”

Now, what are some steps which you might take to invite life’s magic?

A. Before you get near the stage, take a few quiet moments alone to psych yourself up for your performance.

Meditate, give yourself positive suggestions or whatever, so that you can leave your self-doubts and resentments temporarily behind. Don’t worry, they’ll probably be waiting for you when you come back to reclaim them.

If you’ve just had a fight with your boyfriend or husband and are holding on to bad feelings from that, you will project that negativity to your audience on some level regardless of the plastic smile you try to plant over it. Nature just won’t be fooled. Some people have told me that they feel like they are being phony when they temporarily let go of resentments and begin feeling light or full of laughter, even when they have something inside that’s really bothering them. My response to that is that I’m talking about a genuine letting go – not merely denial or repression. You can choose what part of yourself you wish to focus on. If you try to focus on two opposites at once – resentments you are holding on to and a smile – you will block your energy. And if your energy is blocked, you can’t inspire your audience to another level of consciousness.

B. As you begin your performance, command the attention of your audience. You can do this in part with beautiful imaginative costumes, stunning physical appearance, dynamic body movements, engaging eye contact, powerful exciting music, or assertive cymbal playing (hopefully a combination of these factors). I might add that I don’t think you can command anyone’s attention for very long if your cymbal playing or dancing is out of rhythm with the music.

You can’t take anyone to another level of consciousness if you don’t get his or her attention.

If after a reasonable length of time goes by you realize that certain people are not paying attention, then it’s probably best to dance in relationship to those who are with you, and quickly let go of your resentment toward those who are chatting noisily, because if you hold on to those feelings, no one has a chance of experiencing that magic.

C. Now that you have the attention of your audience, take them along with you on a trip into your imagination. Believe -- and thereby invite them to believe – that whatever you are doing at any particular moment is the most important thing happening in the world. Sometimes you will probably slip into a very private part of your imagination and they will be touched by your trance. Other times, without programming it one way or the other, you will communicate with them directly, possibly with warm glances or humor. Hold their attention with the power of your drama, with emotion, rhythm, or both.

Naturally, the composition of your audience will determine what kinds of things will command attention and hold it.

Trust your feelings regarding what fosters that special dynamic between you and your audience.

Keep in mind that sometimes bellydancers in the audience make that dynamic easier to maintain, but other times they might not let you inspire them because they’re too busy picking apart your technique. By the way, in case you are wondering if you have spent years perfecting your technique all for naught, I don’t mean to leave you with that impression. Knowing you have good solid technique and good solid rhythm removes the obstacles between your body and spirit, making it more likely that you can get high while performing and in turn bring the audience to that same level. Also fine music can play an important part in inspiring dancer and audience – old familiar melodies, poignant lyrics, soulful renditions. If you are dancing to live music, then the dynamic between dancer and audience is even more complex. The way you and the musicians relate to each other can spark your imagination to greater heights or frustrate you to the point that you and your audience end up feeling uptight rather than refreshed.

If you are primarily a musician, reread this article and translate it into terms more relevant to what you do. I think you’ll find that the principles brought out will apply.

In closing, I’d like to suggest that you be wary of questions that lead you to dead-end either/or type responses. I hope you enjoy the challenge of becoming an entertainer.

Cymbals & The Music, Article 5

Many of you are teachers who really care about sharing accurate information with your students. I would like to heartily encourage you to continue seeking and sharing clarity in a field that is often shrouded in mystery. As I listen to your questions and comments in my travels, I have discovered an area of confusion that I would like to clear up with this article. I’ll use the format of an ongoing dialogue with an imaginary bellydance instructor.

If you find from reading this that your information has been incorrect, I suggest that you let your students know about your latest discoveries and help them not to make the same mistakes. In the long run my guess is that your students will respect you for this honest approach rather than abandon you because you don’t know all there is to know about Middle Eastern dance and music. Ask my students. They’ve learned all kinds of new things step by step along with me, as I have corrected and refined my knowledge about percussion and rhythms.

“What cymbal patterns fit the 4/4 rhythm?”

Before I can answer your question I’d like to clarify something about the term 4/4 rhythm.

There is no specific rhythm that is called the 4/4 rhythm. 4/4 refers to the way that you can count the passage of time.

That is, over and over again as the music is playing, you can count four beats – one and two and three and four and. In 4/4 music the repetitive pattern that you hear should fit within those four counts. The 4/4 is called the time signature or the meter. But that’s not the rhythm. As I say at the beginning of each workshop, “Rhythm is the patterned arrangement of sound and silent.” The skeleton of a rhythm consists of the pattern that its accents form, a pattern that is repetitive.

So the 4/4 tells you how to count. The rhythm tells you where to put your accents and the musical director tells you how fast this all goes.

Most of the music that you dance to is in some form of 4/4 time. Baladi and bolero are in 4/4 time and so is the lesser known fast chifte telli. Slow chifte telli and masmoudi take up eight beats so you can picture them as taking up two measures of 4/4 time or count from one to eight beats and picture them as in 8/4 time.

“I can recognize the accents of most of those rhythms that you mentioned but as I listen to lots of music that I know is in 4/4 time (because I can count four beats evenly throughout it), I can’t identify any repetitive rhythmical pattern. That’s why I call that music just 4/4 rhythm.”

I would be surprised to find that your bellydance music doesn’t have a repetitive pattern of accents. You just have to have a better idea of what you are listening for. Sometimes a bass instrument marks the accents regularly and the drum plays unrepeated frills on top of that. In that case the accents of the bass give you the rhythm. Other times the drum is enunciating the rhythm with many embellishments surrounding the accents so it’s hard to pick out the pattern. Many times fast chifte telli is the rhythm in question. I know you recognize the slow chifte telli. Just hum it over and over and speed it up until it goes twice as fast as you are used to. See if that fits some of your music.

The first step is always that of identifying what the repetitive accent pattern is. Labeling it is another concern.

If, after asking Middle Eastern rhythm experts and musicians, you don’t learn of a commonly used label for your pattern, then make up a name for the sake of clear communication with your students and associates. Of course, tell them that it is your own label so they won’t find themselves in the embarrassing position of entering a life or death struggle with someone who dares to call that rhythm by another name.

By my insisting that you should be able to find a repetitive accent pattern that is the rhythm, I don’t mean to say that these accents are rigidly played through every measure of the music. Often the percussionist will play what I call a “fill-in” for one or two measures at a time and then returns to the rhythm. I trust that such ‘fill-ins’ are thrown in with taste, enhancing the drama of the music and not so overused that no one can recognize the main rhythm anymore. For those of you who are not familiar with my terminology, a ‘fill-in’ refers to any arrangement of sounds that can be played to fit into the number of beats required by not necessarily retaining the accents of the original rhythm.

Of course drum solos afford ample room for ‘fill-in’ explosions. Besides looking out for ‘fill-ins’, you might keep in mind that the percussionist might change rhythms several times within a single piece.

These changes might be dictated by the music or at times come about because the percussionist wishes to introduce a new flavor into the music. So your task is that of careful listening so that you can recognize a repetitive rhythmical pattern of accents and then realize when this pattern has given way to another repetitive pattern.

“Thanks. Now I understand that there is no such animal as a plain old 4/4 rhythm. But still I want to know what patterns to play on my cymbals once I figure out the accent patterns. I don’t want to play incorrectly so I want you to advise me on what to play.”

At the risk of having fewer seminars to teach, I’ll say that you have done the hardest job once you’ve identified the accent pattern.

Use your own imagination.

Sometimes try to match the percussionist’s accents with your own cymbal accents with little fillers in between and other times play ‘fill-ins’ using a combination of what I call basic and alternating strokes. Now that you have correct information, create your own patterns and encourage your students to do the same.

Unexpected Mishaps, Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 6

The Fates- The Greek goddesses of destiny. In Greek mythology, the three goddesses, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos,, were believed to decree the events in and duration of someone’s life. The Greeks believed that Clotho spun the thread that represented a person’s life, Lachesis decided the extent (or length) of it, and Atropos was the one who cut it at the determined span of time.

Do you like to make exciting things happen in your life, pushing hard to make things turn out just right – first class? Do you put a lot of energy into planning and organizing to ensure such results? “Yes!” you answer proudly. Well, then maybe you are like me: that which is out of your control, the unforeseen, drives you nuts.

In an earlier article, I remember stating that I had grown up a bit because I had begun to ask myself before a planned event: What are the things that possibly could go wrong, psychologically preparing myself for the unexpected and readying myself to improvise? Looking back at 1979, I’m presumptuous enough to think that the gods were testing me because of that slight boast. At the moment of a mishap, certainly, I do not philosophize. However, hours, days, or sometimes weeks later, I certainly do have a good laugh about Fate’s trickery. Perhaps the challenge lies in bringing the laughter closer to the mishap. Maybe one could even learn to laugh before something goes wrong.

I invite you to chuckle with me as I retell several gems of last year. I wouldn’t dare to boast of any lesson you must learn from all of this, and discovery of a meaning is up to you! My first story is about the time that Mahmoud Reda was here (in the S. F. Bay Area). We had worked for months on our music and dance to show off to our Egyptian guest. We musicians arrived on stage two hours before show time. Having learned from difficulties in the past, I had planned this early gathering so we could have an elaborate sound check and rehearse much of the music for the show. While the sound equipment was assembled for us, we patiently waited, but it proved to be a wait somewhat longer than anyone had anticipated. Then came the news...

One hour before our designated show time, someone informed me that we had no amplification. The inputs on the public address system that we rented did not fit the connectors on our microphones.

Usually, that’s not a problem because adaptors can be purchased at any electronics store for less than two dollars. Nevertheless, this particular PA system was so ancient that adaptors were no longer available for it, and the place that rented us the equipment had closed for the night. We frantically called around and found one rental place open that was not too far away. A half an hour before show time, I received a call from our sound man (my husband) from the rental place, saying that they wouldn’t rent him the necessary equipment because he didn’t have a credit card with him. However, they consented to rent the system if someone with me would give his credit card number to the sales person over the phone. We raced around and finally came up with someone with such a magic number. Ten minutes before show time, the sound system was ready! Our sound check was brief, and our rehearsal was even briefer.

The ironic part of this story is that as it turned out, Mahmoud Reda might not even have noticed our lack of amplification. He arrived in San Francisco only hours before the show after the sleepless night and day traveling in a motor home. Therefore, understandably, he could hardly keep his eyes open during our dazzling production.

My second story happened toward the end of March of the same year. I had just spent two lovely days in New York providing drum accompaniment for dance classes and sitting in with Middle Eastern bands at the clubs, oblivious to the outside world.

I arrived at the airport on a Friday morning, eager for the next leg of my journey, to Pennsylvania. I went to check my bags and was startled to find out that the flight, on which I was supposedly booked, didn’t exist… and hadn’t existed for weeks!

I sadly learned that my travel would have to be re-routed through Pittsburgh, and I would have to re-arrange my afternoon plan. “Oh well,” I thought. A seasoned traveler like me could digest easily such an unexpected shift! I would only have to call Jadaya and let her know my new flight plans.

Then I found out the big news. Whether I was coming from New York, Pittsburgh, or the moon did not matter: the Harrisburg Airport had closed. Yes, the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor disaster had taken place several days before only twelve miles from where I was on the schedule to give a two-day seminar—along with the Egyptian percussionist, Sayed Anany.

Over one hundred people had registered for the seminar! Approximately twenty appeared. Nevertheless, we actually taught the seminar, and improvisation was the watchword of our weekend. (I must comment that the gods went a little bit overboard on that one!)

I cannot resist telling you one final story that happened in the fall of the year: I was eating dinner at an ethnic restaurant owned by an acquaintance of mine. The food was great, but there were no other diners in the restaurant. There on the spot, good old helpful Mary Ellen hatched a splendid plan! I told the owner I would like to organize a belly dance show for his place to bring him some business, to give my band an opportunity to perform, and to spotlight the talents of local dance instructors and performers. I assured the owner that we would be able to sell out the place, one hundred paying guests, for dinner and a show, and we did.

Because of the embarrassing service provided by an inebriated chef at a previous banquet that I had sponsored also, I had vowed never again to rave about the food that guests should expect. This time, I had experienced the food myself. I knew the owner prided himself on his gourmet meals, so I put aside my vow and told everyone that they could count on excellent food. However, as it turned out, that night there were not enough tables, chairs, or dishes for the guests. There was only one waiter. Many people didn’t even have a drop of water while they waited for one hour. The food was fair but scant. I asked myself in private: “Is the world simply full of bunglers, or could it be that I have a special knack for finding them? Am I the biggest bungler of them all?" I wondered. (No comment is necessary.) Even considering all of this, the show we put on that night everyone declared to be among our best.

So I ask you: what is the lesson one could learn from these stories? Perhaps, it is that whatever can go wrong may; so remember that entertainers must be not only prepared, but flexible, and that the show must go on!

Negatudes, Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 7

I have just enjoyed putting on a show for a warm and responsive audience. What a joy! This has prompted me to take time to look at the role that an audience plays in the outcome of a performance. This particular show was very special – in honor of Mahmoud Reda, on tour from Egypt, and Dalilah of Las Vegas. The audience was made up of prominent Bay Area dancers from the past as well as the present, musicians, and leaders within the Arab community.

As the sponsor of this event, I did my best to call forth that warmth that exists as potential within each person. That is, before the show I invited all members of the audience to a reception where each got to meet Mahmoud Reda and Dalilah, visit with old friends, make new acquaintances, and enjoy beautifully displayed and tasty hors d’oeuvres in an elegant ballroom with deep red carpets, mirrored walls, and imposing chandeliers.

Yes, I’m sure that these details contributed to the magic of the evening. But there was something else which made this audience so fine to perform for, and I as the sponsor had no way of controlling

...they had come with joy in their hearts, ready to share that joy with others. They clapped and zaghareeted from the beginning of the first instrumental to the very last beat of the drum. And they even laughed heartily at the spontaneous humor of some of us musicians. Many factors go into making a show exciting, often such tedious things as rehearsals, but one thing I know for sure is that we artists perform at our peak when we experience our audience as joyful.

Now for the other side. I have been in audiences where it seems that they are “out for blood.”

They hold back joy and love, frown at those who begin to move with the music and clap a little. They drain the dancers and musicians with their negativity such that only the very finest can survive. Many of us are members of audiences just as often or even more often than we are performers, so let’s take a look at what we do to contribute to the positive or negative outcome of a performance.

Here are some of the negative attitudes which we carry with us to shows:

1. We don’t really feel like going out to a show but we go because we want to support the sponsor, so that when we put on an event that sponsor will come and support ours. I don’t mean to imply that such supportiveness is bad. We all need that support to keep on creating and keep on organizing energy. But if you live in an area where there are several belly dance functions going on every weekend and drag yourself to most of them to give support, then what you will get at your function is a dragged-out audience wishing they were warm and cozy at home, certainly not ready to inspire the performers.

2. We weren’t really interested in a particular performance but we go because we want to be loyal to our instructor, and we know that she will treat us with some disfavor if we don’t come out in throngs. What a fine audience we will make.

As sponsors of events, we sometimes are tempted to use all manner of manipulations and coercive tactics to get our students and our followers to attend the event.

We have to distinguish between the use of genuine encouragement because we feel an event would be well worth attending, and the use of guilt tactics that are often in service of our ego needs rather than to benefit the potential attendee of the event.

3. We have a fixed idea about how the dance and the music ought to be performed and therefore don’t appreciate the artistry of anyone who doesn’t fit that mold.

We hold back approval and enthusiasm to punish the performers for deviating.

I’m not referring to performers who simply are mediocre or bad at what they are doing.

4. As dancers, we want to go away from the performance with a pocket full of new steps. As drummers, we want to fill the other pocket with all kinds of strokes and techniques which we hadn’t used before. We are then future oriented, already plotting how we will use these new steps or strokes in our next performance, where we will dazzle the pocket fillers and probably experience another dull audience. Maybe it would be better if we designate someone as movie maker of the evening, and all plan to watch the whole show again to study performances and learn from them. That way we could free ourselves up during the show itself to maybe enjoy it. Maybe we could even send joyous energy back to the performers so they might have a better chance at helping us to forget ourselves for a few moments. Yes, we can learn a great deal from the performance of others, but let’s see if we can do that in some way that we don’t sacrifice the high of a performance.

We, the members of the audience, exercise a great deal of influence on the energy level of a performance.

If we come with any of the negative attitudes discussed above we make it difficult or sometimes impossible for the performers to lead us to another level of consciousness – that joy that comes from temporarily abandoning our ego and self-absorption. If we go to a performance in good faith with warm hearts, we invite the performers to do their very best, and if they are talented and of like spirit, then all will experience those high moments that we cherish.

In saying the above, I’m speaking from personal experience. At some time or another, I know that I have attended a performance with each of the negative attitudes discussed. I have felt deadened inside when my joy and warmth have been blocked by these attitudes. I remember commenting to myself, “What a farce. I thought I came to this event to enjoy myself and get high with the music and dance and here I am wishing I were somewhere else or wishing that I could stop my brain from working so hard.” Oh well, at least we can say smilingly that life is simple. It always boils down to the same question – How can I focus on the present and not split my consciousness into so many strands? I’m sure you are working on this question each day even if you don’t label it the same way.

Just as a final note, I’d like to say that as sponsors of performances...

we are left with a dilemma. We have to get a certain number of people to attend our event to break even, and then some more so we can make some money, if that’s what we’re in business for.

But if we want a high energy performance with musicians, dancers, and audience at one, then maybe we only want the joyous ones in the audiences. Are there enough such people at any particular time?

Leadership Risks, Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 8

“Enjoy yourself or try to learn – you will annoy someone. If you do not – you will annoy someone.”[1] These words of wisdom from Sufi literature have been a great comfort to me over the past year. I hope they will do the same for you. Let me share with you what I’ve learned about being a leader and you’ll see what I mean.

If you teach (even a small class), direct a troupe, or sponsor guest artists in workshops or shows, you are a leader.

When you lead people, you take certain risks. One such risk is that of self-revelation.

When you teach or direct a troupe, your philosophy and personality step forth for others to inspect. Often you are taking your dreams and putting them on the line, asking others to help you realize them. Sometimes you will find that some of your dreams should remain just dreams, better not acted upon. Sometimes you will seriously ask yourself if you are being too presumptuous in asking others to realize your dreams. Don’t ponder this question for too long because you will see that people will follow you only as long as your dreams and theirs are compatible.

The positive side of this risk of self-revelation is that when you give reality to that which was simply an image in your brain, you can interact with it, modify it, reject it, truly own it as yours, or grow beyond it. Otherwise, if you hadn’t taken courage to give substance to your image, it wouldn’t have had much impact on your life.

If you’re the kind of person who wishes to please everyone, then acting as a leader will bring definite challenges to you as you struggle toward maturity. Of course, if you surround yourself with a few always admiring followers, and lead on a small scale, then you’ll probably get lots of gratification from hearing that you’re pleasing everyone. When you venture further out into the world, attempting to lead on a larger scale, you’ll be jolted for sure. You’ll find some will spontaneously like you and others dislike you. Some will rejoice at your every success, others will envy every upward step you take. Still others will appreciate what you do much of the time and disagree other times. Here’s where Nasrudin’s wisdom comes in.

I’ve come to realize that to lead is to make judgments, to decide. Every time you decide to put one dancer at the beginning of the show, you’re deciding to put another farther along. When you choose one musician’s rendition of a song, you’re excluding another musician’s rendition.

When you call on one student to demonstrate a certain step in class, at that moment you are eliminating every other student as demonstrators of the step – and so on. Many who experience your decision as a rejection will feel hurt, annoyed, or angered by you. Not easy to take if you are wishing to please everyone. All you can do is honor the principles and feelings that are important to you and decide for or against people, activities, or ideas accordingly.

When you lead people, you have to put a lot of energy into organizing. You have to organize thoughts, maryellendonald, goals, tasks, and help others to organize such things for themselves. As one who finds great pleasure in organizing things well, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and observations with you about good organizing.

1. If you take excessive pride in good organizing, you make yourself extremely vulnerable to others. The slightest breakdown in your plans can upset you terribly. You might feel (as I’ve often felt) that one of the worst things someone could do was to mess up your well-laid plans. I’ve softened my feelings in this area after organizing several weeklong seminars involving hundreds of details and many people.

I learned with difficulty that I couldn’t program people to be like robots – never getting sick, never having marital problems, never having car trouble, never forgetting, never losing their cool.

I find that now I just chuckle to myself after organizing something very tightly and ask, “What will be the breakdowns in my plans today? What might I have forgotten?”, knowing that whatever it is, things will still work out okay. What I’ve learned is that the best organizer is one who can be imaginative and adaptive when things go wrong, rather than one who tensely pushes for the impossible, expecting people to be more than human.

2. You won’t do very well if you organize in a rush.

First you have to organize the overall picture of what you will do. Then you organize the next layer of details. Only after these details are handled will you see the next layer that awaits you, and so forth. You need time for these details to emerge while you can still arrange to take care of them.

3. Your organizational plan can strangle the life out of what you are doing if it is too rigid or too detailed.

You have to find a workable balance between organizational skills and confidence in your own spontaneity and that of others. For example, what virtue is there in starting a workshop at the exact minute that you claimed you would if two-thirds of your participants are still having lunch? Or if a beautiful discussion is emerging in a class, does it make sense to cut yourself off in mid-sentence because you had promised to finish the class at four o’clock? By no means am I saying that the opposite is true, that things left to just flow on and on without any organization provide the ultimate in human experience. I don’t believe that either.

In closing I’d like to say that I think it takes lots of courage to lead and organize people. It’s taken me a long time to learn some of the lessons mentioned here. I hope you who are leaders are learning these lessons without too much difficulty.

Dancers and Musicians, Can't We All Get Along? Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 9

Dancing to live music is a treat that some of you experience often and many of you haven’t experienced at all. The scarcity of musicians and the unwillingness of many party givers to pay for musicians as well as dancers probably will continue to make dancing to live music a rare happening. Hopefully the popularity and frequency of large bellydance seminars and conventions will bring this special experience within your reach more each year. I’d like to comment on the ways in which dancers and musicians can work together effectively. I’m assuming that most of you are dancers and therefore am not going to make many suggestions for musicians to consider. (I look forward to the day when I’m speaking to an audience of musicians who wish to work better with dancers!)

First, you don’t have to be afraid of working with live music.

The excitement generated from such an experience will far outweigh the uncertainty you might feel because you cannot predict exactly what’s going to happen.

In fact, it’s that very unpredictability and spontaneity that makes live music so exciting. Before going further with my positive remarks, I’d like to say that you have to be realistic in assessing the possibilities of working cooperatively with musicians. If your musicians simply play terribly out of tune, and add or take away beats from the rhythm, you can’t do much except ask for a simple routine, and be imaginative in your dancing to cover up the bad sound. (Sad to say, but dancing to tapes would be better than dancing to bad live music.) If your musicians play well but are extremely arrogant, giving off clear messages about their inapproachability, there isn’t much you can do to make the performance a shared experience. In that case, you probably should try to be as outwardly pleasant as possible to run less of a risk that the musicians will deliberately try to trip you up with the music.

Many musicians do recognize the importance of working together cooperatively with dancers. They are wise enough to know that if they play in a way that makes the dancer look good, they will sound better to the audience. When working with such musicians, don’t be nonchalant about your music, telling them that you don’t care what they play because you “can dance to anything.”

They’ll assume that you don’t appreciate good music and probably won’t put their heart into their playing.

On the other hand, if you spell out your musical requests with such detail that there is little room for creativity or choice on the part of the musicians, you might get exactly what you asked for – but played without spirit. For best results, try something like the following: let the musicians know how long your dance is supposed to be and the order of rhythms and tempos you want. If you have a favorite song or two, mention them. You might have a favorite instrument for floor taqsim – request that. Ask the musicians to pick songs for the rhythms you requested. (Unless you’re very learned in Middle Eastern music, you might line up songs that are in melodic modes that do not follow each other well.) So that you can dance and play cymbals effectively, it’s very important that you have each section at the right tempo, so be sure to make those needs known to the musicians.

So far I’ve been talking about how to cooperate with musicians before the performance by selecting the music together. Now I’d like to take about the performance itself.

Of course, you do have to work out ahead of time what cues you’ll give to indicate your desire to shift rhythms.

Be sure that you decide on very clear cues, like: “When I drop to the floor, begin the nay taqsim,” or “When I get up, begin speeding up and shift to baladi soon.” When you give your cue for making a change and the musicians are in the middle of a song, don’t ask that they change abruptly – but rather continue with what you are doing and expect that they will make the shift at the nearest possible time without butchering the music.

If you respect the beauty of melodies and the continuity of music in this way, then the musicians will most likely respect your dancing more and give you their best.

Dance for the musicians as well as for your audience. Show your pleasure with the music and let go and dance full of feeling.

Many personal experiences have shown me how good music can transform a mediocre dancer into an exciting artist – and how an inspired dancer can bring forth new heights in musical creativity from musicians who might ordinarily play as though they are bored to death. When a performance is really tops, the dancer, the music, and the musicians blend into one magnificent whole, bringing the audience along to join in that unity.

I am painting a glorious picture because I have experienced it that way and wish that experience for all of you. But I’m also aware of the attitudinal blocks that can disrupt such cooperation between dancers and musicians.

Some musicians feel that music always is on a higher spiritual plane than dancing. Others are very resentful of dancers getting all of the praise for their performances while the musicians just stay unrecognized in the background.

Many dancers don’t know enough about Middle Eastern music to appreciate the skills displayed by the musicians, so they take for granted much virtuosity. Some dancers feel very intimidated by musicians. Others feel that all musicians are hopelessly caught up with ego problems. Since most dancers are women and most musicians are men, general attitudes that men and women have about each other also get in the way. Knowing both the musicians’ world and the dancers’ world, I appreciate the beauty and value of both. I hope you will join me in trying to bring those worlds closer together.

How to Avoid Being Eaten by Sharks

I invite you to join me…
on a psychological sojourn…
when I am frightened…
and I feel…

When I am frightened, and I feel my sense of self-worth being threatened, I often dip into my crazy bag and come up with some kind of extreme response: a shouting fit, a quiet, rigid stance, or a proclamation of new restrictions. Is it the same for you?

Fortunately, most of us feel our sense of self-worth threatened only occasionally. Sometimes we get this feeling over surprisingly small matters such as a husband’s dislike of a casserole over which we labored all afternoon.

Not so fortunate are those people who feel threatened most of the time, limping from one extreme response to another.

My formal psychological training and experience leads me to speculate that such people have experienced very stressful childhoods that have robbed them of a good solid sense of self. That is, to survive at all, they had to cling to whatever fragment of self they could conjure up. Perhaps they exaggerated this fragment and ignored the development of many other important aspects of their beings.

Such people, dancers included of course, often attempt to surround themselves with those who will bolster and support their distorted self-maryellendonald; they tend to choose anyone who does not threaten them.

Those among us, who are content to be feeders of the threatened person, give up our own individuality, and we may pay dearly for doing so!

You are probably questioning what all of this talk has to do with Bellydance! Well, it does not have any more to do with Bellydancing than it does with any other activity! However, since most of the problems one encounters while studying, teaching, or performing the Bellydance have much more to do with human issues rather than problems in the dance per se, I’d like to examine this topic a little closer with you. My expectation is to heighten your awareness. Perhaps you can save yourself a lot of trouble as you pursue your dance career or involvement in the world of dance. (Once a social worker, always a social worker!)

My travels around the U.S.A. have made something very clear to me: every Bellydance community contains at least one of the above-mentioned “easily threatened people.”

Sadly, in many instances, those who are most easily threatened also wield a great deal of power. Currently some of you are—or have been—their feeders. You might ask yourself what it is about you that would lead you to accept such an uncomfortable role. I am sure that you gain something very important for yourself, or you would not do it, but I am suggesting that you try to find a more satisfying way of gaining the same thing or something better.

Below are more details concerning those among us who whose sense of self-worth is very easily threatened.

I have been the recipient of ALL of the statements quoted below!

They are repressive:

“Mary Ellen, you don’t know how happy we were to find your books. Way before you wrote them, we tried to use our background in piano and write down (in musical notation) some of the Middle Eastern rhythms we heard on the records. We brought our work to class, but loudly, our teacher scolded us and told us never to do that again since there was no connection between our piano lessons and our Bellydance music.” (I am surely glad I did not consult with their teacher when I was thinking of publishing my books!)

“My teacher told me that if I ever studied with any other teacher she would throw me out of the company. Studying with her was a very special pleasure. I did not know any other teachers who had troupes. I did not dare to study anywhere else.”

“Sometimes the music would inspire me while I was dancing in class. My cymbals would pick up the accents of the music, and I would flow with it. When that happened, my teacher stopped me and said that a Bellydancer should never play anything other than right-left-right throughout the dance.” (Please beware of the ignorance lurking behind some voices of authority.)

They delight in public denouncements:

“I was chatting with a few of the students during the break and mentioned X who had been a member of the class and the troupe until recently. My instructor overheard me and rushed over to our group. She glared at me, and with a voice filled with tension, she warned me never to utter the name of that dancer in her presence! She continued delivering a detailed account of how awful that woman had behaved.”

“Often I would go into her class in a good mood, but two hours later, I would leave, feeling like no responsible citizen would want to bring another child into this horrible world. She would point out the ills in just about every aspect of Bellydance and in the entire socio-economic order of things.” (With so many people around willing to pay money to feel bad, I sometimes wonder why I work so hard at helping people to feel good. You guessed it: the social worker rides again!)

They thrive on grandiosity:

“In our class, several of us students told our teacher we felt shaky about our Bellydance technique. We repeatedly asked her to help us with our technique. However, her only response was, ‘You can get that from any other teacher. I’ve gone way beyond that level!’ Her response always left us feeling frustrated and confused.”

“Whenever I criticize about something specific to my teacher, she doesn’t seem to hear me. Instead, she sets me up as a representative of one viewpoint, herself as a representative of an opposing viewpoint, and then proceeds with a lengthy series of arguments to prove that her viewpoint is the correct one. She does not fight battles; she wages wars! She does not aim at doing something well; she has to do the best in the Universe.” They live on the level of Love or Hate:

“I thought we were good friends. We shared many confidences. She turned to me for support when many others had turned away. That is why I was shocked one day, when, out-of-the-blue, she lashed out at me with an unforgettably fiery tongue! From then on, I felt very shaky when relating to her because I never was sure of when I might become a victim of her hostility again.”

“We were good friends. She got me dancing jobs, and I was very appreciative. One day when I began to strike up one of our usually lively conversations, she deadened her voice and coldly turned away. We haven’t spoken since.”

“He smiled at me a lot. He was always charming and complimentary. He acted as if everything I did was perfect in his eyes. Suddenly, he turned completely against me! Then, just as suddenly, he went back to his old charming manner. Now, I know how phony he is, and that behavior disgusts me.” (I feel for you. I am a trusting person, so when I experience such an abrupt turnabout, I feel extremely vulnerable, too.)

One need not point a finger at other dancers and self-righteously label them as “crazy.” It could be that your reasoned response may stimulate growth within them.

By realizing that someone is one of the easily threatened types, perhaps you will be able to relate to them in a way that is less draining for you.

If you ever gain the confidence of a dancer who is easily threatened, one of the kindest things you could do is to suggest that she or he seek professional counseling—since you don’t feel able to resolve such conflicts. Unfortunately, most of us need to have the roof cave in upon our heads before we will seek the right kind of help.

Often, the easily threatened person will try to envelop you, making you feel as though you are a very important person in her life. If you fall for the flattery and let her into more of your life, you are inviting trouble!

One important tip to remember, when relating to such a person, is to put firm limits on the nature of your involvement with each other. You might agree to share a few specific activities and nothing more.

You do not want to open up your heart to this person, especially regarding your feelings about other people, because they will twist your secrets against you when you begin to squirm out of the relationship with them.

I assume most of you want to trust others; so, I know this may sound cold and paranoid. However, I will take that risk. Of course, I am advising such precautions only when you are dealing with people you know to be easily threatened. It is my hope that you will be relating to other people in a trusting and open way.

I have been sharing a little advice concerning how to relate to an easily threatened person. I have assumed that you have decided that you can gain some good from the relationship.

However, sometimes you have to come to the agonizing conclusion that you would be better off not relating at all!

In that case, I suggest that you withdraw with as much dignity as possible, as soon as possible.

Rhythmical Truths, Rhythm and Reason Series, Article 11

I’m happy to report that in my travels I’m finding that more and more of you involved in bellydance are concerned about improving your rhythmical expertise. In response to this growing interest, I’d like to answer several questions about rhythm that have been posed to me on various occasions. For example, you might not be able to figure out the rhythm that is being used in a specific piece.

1.Is it alright for me to dance and play cymbals to baladi accents when a masmoudi rhythm is being played?

I would suggest that you not do that. Here’s why.

By dancing and playing baladi to a masmoudi rhythm you lose a perfect opportunity to introduce variety into your performance. As I’ve stated at length in an earlier article, you have to remember that you are performing for an audience. Not that the audience dictates exactly what you do, but certainly you should develop a relationship with that audience. Recall some situation in which you were in the audience. Remember how long your attention span was. I might interject that my oudist friend, George Mundy, has made very elaborate tests to conclude that two minutes of any one type of sound or look is as long as the average person in the audience can be interested. If you are fortunate enough to be dancing to music that includes a masmoudi as well as a baladi rhythm, then make the most of it. They each possess very different qualities. The baladi has five quick accents within four beats and the masmoudi has three heavy accents within eight beats. Change dramatically with the music and your audience will love it.

If you don’t change your dancing and cymbals in such a way, then you will certainly offend those in the audience who know anything about rhythm. Even those who can’t articulate the difference between rhythms will sense that you didn’t do justice to the music.

If you are dancing with musicians and play baladi straight through the masmoudi section, then you’ll probably irritate them and not get the kind of cooperation you need. One of the best ways to establish a good working relationship with musicians is to demonstrate real knowledge and respect for your musical and rhythmical changes. (And you know how hard such good working relationships are to come by.)

In my books and in person, I make the point that there are two basic kinds of rhythmical variations – embellishments and fill-ins. When you play an embellishment on your cymbals, you play the accents of the rhythm in question and include some fancy things between the accents. When you play a fill-in, you simply fill in the amount of beats that the Middle Eastern rhythm would have taken up – such as four beats for baladi – without retaining the accents of that rhythm. For example, a baladi embellishment might be the fairly standard way of playing it – R, R, rl, R, R, rl, R, rl. A fill-in might be four basic patterns of R, rl, or four groups of alternating strokes, rlrl. No matter what the rhythm you are dancing to, you might want to throw in some fill-ins just for variety – that is, play in a way that does not pick up the accents of the rhythm. So for some particular dramatic effect, you might play alternating strokes for several baladi measures and continue doing so during a few masmoudi measures. Also, if you are very sure of your rhythmical ability and intentionally wish to create a counterpointal effect with the drummer, then for some section of your dancing and cymbal playing, you might want to play the accents of one rhythm while the drummer is playing the accents of another. Generally, I would discourage your mixing up the accents of various Middle Eastern rhythms, however.

2. As a drummer I’m listening to a lot of Arabic music and hear some baladi rhythms plus lots of other rhythms which I can’t identify. I do know that they are 4/4 rhythms so is it alright for me to play baladi straight through all of them?

No, you shouldn’t do that. By doing so you would greatly detract from the effect desired by the composer of the piece. If you wish to play baladi throughout an entire piece of music, then choose one of the millions of pieces which call for that. (I’d like to add that you can introduce variety within a piece originally written for baladi by making your own special arrangement such as reworking the melody so it fits into 6/8 or 2/4 – Jalaladdin Takesh did this with Ah Ya Zein in his Volume II album.)

Fortunately many Arabic pieces have a wealth of rhythmical changes written in. To play such pieces well, you have to listen to them over and over again. Note where each new rhythm begins and ends. Listen to a section until you can figure out on what counts the doum accents come. Then play those doum accents where they seem to fall and invent some light strokes to do on the tak. Getting the doums correctly located is crucial. Don’t worry about what each of the new rhythms is called. After consulting with various Middle Eastern musicians throughout the country, I’ve concluded that there is very little consensus about what a particular rhythm should be called. Among the dancers and musicians with whom you generally perform, try to establish some labels for these rhythms just so you can understand each other’s requests. An example of one such rhythm is 4/4: D, T, L, T, D, L, T, tl, with all eighth notes (capitalized) equally accented. (On cymbals: R, L, R, L, R, L, R, rl). An example of a song that has definite rhythmical changes written in is El Ataba (a nice rendition to be found on the George Elias album), shifting back and forth between a 3-3-2 pattern and baladi.

By the way, when I’m talking about playing the drum to match the rhythms you hear on a recording, I’m talking about practice sessions only. I don’t recommend playing drum along with taped music during a performance. Usually there is adequate or fancy drumming on a recording. If you play along with that drumming with your own embellishments and fill-ins, my prediction is that the end result will be junky. So if you wish to spice up a performance, and you, the drummer, are the only musician along with a handful of tapes, here are some ideas for doing so with taste.

One dancer dances a three-part number to a tape and then you and she do a drum and shimmy solo afterwards for a finale.

One dancer performs a three-part number in which the first part is done to the tape, and then you take over on drum for slow taqsim and fast finale.

One dancer or group of dancers perform a short number just to tape.

A strong dancer performs a short five-part routine to just your drumming, including a brisk drum solo. A strong dancer can call forth your finest drumming just as you, with sensitive drumming, can call forth her finest dancing.

I would add that if you could be joined by someone on tambourine, your sound would be even richer and more exciting. For those of you who haven’t yet discovered the treasures of tambourining, I’d like to point out that you can produce a wide range of effects on the tambourine and very nicely reflect different moods and degrees of intensity. If you are carrying the live music by yourself with the drum, then it probably would be a good idea to have several drums with you, each with different tones, so you can have another way of creating variety.

3. Some pieces can be interpreted very nicely with any one of several rhythms. Would a dancer be thrown off if I as a drummer chose to use one rhythm for a song and she was used to another rhythm with it?

You are right about the fact that there are pieces for which a variety of rhythms would be appropriate. For example, Bry Demet Ya Semen can be interpreted by bolero, slow baladi, fast chifte-telli, or a 3-3-2 rhythm. In general I don’t think that a dancer would be thrown off by your choosing a rhythmical interpretation different from what she was used to, of course assuming your rhythm fits the music. I say that because a good strong dancer can adapt her movements and cymbals very easily, and a weaker dancer wouldn’t know the difference so would go on doing what she had planned to anyway. If you plan to do some radically different rhythm to a particular piece, it might be nice to discuss it with the dancer.

My answers above boil down to some basic principles. Respect the beauty and intricacy of the music and rhythms whenever you dance, play cymbals, or drum. If you do, both you and your audience will have an enriching experience

I’d like to thank George Dabaie and Jihad Racy for helping me to clarify some of my above points on Middle Eastern rhythms.

In keeping with the theme of this issue, I’m going to write about beauty this time. For me, a person who doesn’t see very well, beauty reaches me mainly through my ears rather than through my eyes. Beautiful music of course. I’d like to share some personal notes about my musical evolution in hopes that some new doors to beauty might open up for you.

I call music beautiful when it touches off my deeper feelings and fantasies. We all have a wide variety of such feelings and fantasies and we can all be touched by many different kinds of music. In high school, it was the power and rejoicing of Handel’s Halleluia Chorus and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. In college, it was the romance in Green Dolphin Street as performed by George Shearing and Nancy Wilson; the gripping melancholy of the Concerto de Aranque by Joaquin Rodrigo; the boundless energy and excitement of Beethoven. Then there was and still is for me Jazz – much beauty. Somewhere in there a joyous gospel song slipped in and held me prisoner for a long time – the Edwin Hawkins Singers and Oh, Happy Day.

The beauty of music softens me when I become harsh; brings me new energy when I’m tired; inspires me to keep moving toward my goals when I feel like forgetting them.

Maybe more important than all of this that I have found that being touched by the beauty of music allows for a special kind of sharing between myself and others whom music so moves. Such sharing comes as a welcome relief after hours spent in individual strivings. You and I have been so moved by different kinds of Western music for years. So it’s not surprising that Middle Eastern music has cast its spell on us.

How to share my journey from Middle Eastern folk to Egyptian urban music? Several years ago after drumming for a show – “Mary Ellen, that music you and your musician friends are playing sounds like rock and roll or, better yet, square dance music” – loving commentary from my favorite critic, my husband, Ed. At that time I was playing some of the millions of songs that are in the baladi rhythm all the way through with a half a dozen verses and choruses all sounding the same. Yes, these were folk tunes, whose popularity was based simply on their familiarity. At that time, I liked those good old standard songs with their earthy sound and continuous steady driving rhythm. From time to time someone would introduce me to a new record with more of an Arabic urban flavor. I would listen to it once, conclude that it was good music to iron by (that’s a joke) or good background music for a Middle Eastern dress-up party – but for dancing to or learning how to play the drum, it didn’t do a thing for me.

Then came Bert with one of his Middle Eastern treasures,

a record for which he had paid twelve dollars in Morocco and guarded with his life all the way back to the States – only to find that the record was already popular with Bay Area dancers and selling for seven dollars at Samiramis Imports. That treasure was Belly Dance, Spectacular Rhythms of the Middle East with the Rahbani brothers. Organ and drum, accordion and drum. Where was the oud? Where was the saz? That heavy baladi going into all kinds of 4/4 variations that were fascinating. Exciting and definitely not to iron by. The door to beauty opening slightly. Not too long after that, I was nudged a little further by the words of my Arabic music freak friend, Khadija: “Mary Ellen, you play the drum pretty well. Why don’t you learn some decent music?”

The door really swung open on Saturday, October 8, 1977. I was teaching at a seminar with Bert Balladine for Patrima and Bob Margrave in the Washington, D.C. area. Five minutes into the rehearsal for our show, I was a convert. I was invited to join the band on tambourine – an outstanding band with Steve Ballajia, musical director on doumbec; Sayed Anany on tambourine, bongos and mazhar; Mahmoud Hassanan “Totto” on nay and mizmar (all from Washington, D.C.); Sammy Ansary on organ; and Hamouda Ali on violin (both from New York). The sound system was excellent so the good music came across powerfully. Many of the songs we played had a wide variety of rhythmical changes and breaks. I must say that rehearsal was a crash course for me.

In the show itself the next night, I concentrated intensely, took lots of deep breaths, and prayed.

I did all this because those sudden shifts in rhythm and tempo and the abrupt breaks in the music that were unfamiliar to me could have made me look like a fool – I making a beautiful stroke when everyone else was silent. (Needless to say, you as a dancer run the same risk of embarrassment when you perform to music that is unfamiliar.) That night the combination of beautiful Egyptian music, dynamic performance of Emar Gemal, Dalilah, and Patrima and Bert, and the exuberant audience made me pleasantly crazy and I think I still am.

The number of records in my collection doubled in three months with Middle Eastern music with organ, accordion, trumpet, saxophone, guitar, and moog synthesizer. Records that were just collecting dust now played every day. Music of Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Oum Koulsoum, Farid el Atrache, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Omar Khorshid. Heavy, heavy percussion with pleasing combinations of American, Latin, and Arabic flavors.

I get such a kick out of the fact that we in the West are trying to be so pure in our interpretation of Middle Eastern music and dress, frowning on anything that wasn’t used for at least a thousand years, while Middle Eastern musicians and dancers are straining to be as Western as possible.

Omar Khorshid playing guitar on his Tribute to Oum Koulsoum opened the door for me to the heavier orchestrated original recordings by Oum Koulsoum, the most renowned Arabic female vocalist of all time. Alf Leyla with its powerful violin sections and dramatic melody and rhythmical shifts is my favorite of Oum Koulsoum, with Leilet Hob also high on my list. With my discovery of Egyptian musical treasures I feel like I used to as a teenager listening to Elvis’ Love Me Tender for hours on end. It’s that bad. My friend Natasha from Chicago tells me I’m suffering from a common addiction known to the bellydance world.

I’d like to finish by sharing my most current musical turn-on. Because I’m playing it so much, my husband has threatened to put me out on the road for a really long trip. It’s an album called Viva Bellydance by Hassan Abou Seoud. The particular song which does me in is called Enousa.

My hope is that you will always be open to the beauty of music and that sometimes your beauty and mind will be the same.

About Cymbals & a Workshop Checklist

Deviating from my usual custom of fully developing a single theme, I would like to share a few unrelated commentaries and helpful tips.


Believe it or not, playing cymbals can be a real pleasure. Playing them well can greatly enhance your dance performance. Playing apologetic or offbeat cymbals can ruin your dance performance.

Playing cymbals well does not necessarily mean playing millions of fancy patterns; it means playing in time with your musical accompaniment and tastefully mixing rhythmical variations, making a connection between the music, your feelings, and your cymbals.

If you have any doubt about your ability to play in time with the music, ask a friend with good listening skills to check you out. Put on a moderate speed 4/4 piece of music, most Egyptian music would do, and play your cymbals with even, alternating strokes – right, left, right, left, etc. Ask your friend to let you know if your strokes are fitting evenly between the beats of the music. Repeat the same experiment with 4/4 music of various tempos. When you and your friend agree that you are in time with the music – with no irregularities in your playing – then breathe a sigh of relief, enjoy playing your cymbals assertively, and skip to the next topic in this article or maybe on to see how you might help a friend with her cymbal playing.

If your friend reports that you are playing offbeat, then turn off the music and ask your friend to clap steadily at a moderate speed. Try to fit two alternating strokes to each clap – that is, a right coinciding with her clap, and a left half way between one clap and the following clap. (Playing along with a tape recording of even clapping might be necessary if you are far from playing evenly.) Put on a piece of music again after your friend agrees that you are playing within her clapped-out beats. Ask her to clap on each beat of the music, counting “one, two, three, four,” as she goes. You again try to play two alternating strokes to each of her claps. After you do that with ease, then play the same music and ask her not to clap and you again play two alternating strokes to the beats. By this time, you should be hearing and mentally counting the beats. If that doesn’t work, then ask your friend to clap and count again. I know this sounds tedious.

It is a tedious task to retrain your listening abilities. Concentration is what’s called for, and these days we are so pushed around by multi-dimensional stimuli that even the simplest demand for concentration boggles our minds.

When you are sure that you are listening well and playing evenly, try playing four alternating strokes to each numbered beat, repeating the procedure with clapping if necessary. This is just an exercise; I’m not suggesting that you play alternating strokes continuously while dancing.

If you determine that your listening skills are fine but you just can’t keep up the speed you know the music calls for, your task is to build up strength in your hands and fingers. To help you with this, I’d like to suggest an exercise my friend Khadija calls “race with the devil.” Play a fairly fast 4/4 piece of music, play four alternating strokes per numbered beat, pausing on beat four with only one right hand stroke on that beat. Keep repeating that over and over, pausing on beat four. When you can play that evenly, then play alternating strokes to the music for eight beats in a row, pausing with one right-hand strokes on the eighth beat. When you can do this with ease, pause on the twelfth beat, later only on the sixteenth beat, at sometime playing the entire piece of music with alternating strokes without a pause. When that comes easily, do this again to even faster music.

If you find yourself playing with jerky strokes, then introduce more pauses. Evenness is crucial.

If you find your listening skills are fine and your hands are strong enough to enable you to keep up with playing alternating strokes continuously for a good while – but your problem lies in the area of doing all this while dancing – what you have to do is work on simple cymbal and body coordination exercises. Get as basic as you have to get until you have success at coordinating cymbal playing with body movements. Begin by walking around the room with each step coming on one of the beats numbered from one to four. Do this without musical accompaniment at first but a friend clapping or playing single strokes on a drum might help. While walking around the room, repeat the above outlined exercises with alternating strokes and finally do the above to music. When you can do this with ease, then keep alternating your cymbal strokes and vary your body movements, maybe step/hip combinations or simple undulations and later try it with shimmies. Whenever your coordination falters, back up in the process and simplify your movements. Again, what you are doing is retraining sections of your nervous system and it is tedious.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you have much choice about whether or not you want to work on such unexciting aspects of your dancing.

Your credibility as a professional Bellydancer or instructor is questioned every time you play cymbals or dance offbeat.

I might add that as teachers you owe it to your students to teach good rhythm until you’re blue in the face from doing so, if that’s what it takes.


Although not convinced that one person can really teach another about how to put on a successful event, I’d like to share a checklist of questions which might orient you before you undertake the task of putting on an event.

Where do I expect to get my main support, locally, or from out of town?

If from out of town, then:

a. Would people want to make a trip to my town;
b. Is there good transportation leading into my town;
c. Are there reasonably-priced motels which I would recommend near the site of the event?

If I expect mainly local support then:

a. Am I a good friend of a number of local instructors whose events I’ve enthusiastically supported so I could reasonably expect them to support my event bringing many of their students;
b. Do I have any reason to believe that my big rival across town will let down her guard and send people to my event?

Has my area already been workshopped and seminared to death recently?

Are the talents of the person I’m sponsoring highly acclaimed in the bellydance publications?

Have I personally experienced the instruction and performance of the person I plan to sponsor, so that I can wholeheartedly recommend that person to others?

Do I have the energy and imagination to come up with promotional techniques far more effective than the mere sending out of flyers?

Can I honestly say that I’ve demonstrated organizing skills, or should I hire someone else to handle the endless details?

Do I have friends and family on whom I can count to work tirelessly by my side to supply the extra hands and legs necessary to make such an event successful?

For me to consider an event successful, it would have to combine inner satisfaction with financial gain – that inner satisfaction that comes from providing a worthwhile experience for the participants, respecting the personhood of each?

Rhythm and Reason Series, Bellydance Journalism, Article 14

We have all heard a lot of talk during the past couple of years about the need to raise standards within the bellydance profession – the need to convince the public that bellydancing is a genuine art form, not just the hoochy coochy.

Frankly, I’m disturbed about the ways in which many of you have attempted to achieve these goals. You seem to think that you arrive at excellence by throwing in the word ‘art’ every time you mention bellydancing.

How often have you heard a dancer say that she performs the “art of ballet?” Actually, saying the ‘art of bellydancing’ isn’t even lofty enough for many; it has to be ‘la danse orientale’, ‘la danse du ventre’, or at least ‘oriental dance’.

Others go one step further and seem to assert that you are raising standards by wrapping yourselves up in ten layers of cloth.

When you see a performance by someone like Dalilah of Las Vegas, some will call it entertainment, others will call it ‘art’ – I call it good. When a great performer weaves his or her magic, labels become secondary. Bert Balladine prefers to call himself an entertainer and says:

“I believe the title ‘artist’ is one which can only be bestowed on a performer by the audience.”

In my opening remarks I’ve said “you” instead of “we” because I’m not a dancer; I’m a musician who dances.

Now I’m going to turn to my part in all of this. Up to now, I’ve kept silent about some very delicate issues for the same reasons I would suspect motivate other people with influence in the bellydance world – political reasons, fear of endangering the growth of my business, wanting to be considered nice in order to be well liked.

Anyway, I’d like to share some of those withheld perceptions.

Some people have cautioned me against using psychological terminology and difficult concepts in my writing.

In short, I’m being asked to believe that bellydancers are a bunch of dummies. I don’t accept that. I think that many of you for your own personal reasons have allowed yourselves to be misled by some of the leaders within the bellydance profession.

One powerful tool used to mislead is bellydance journalism.

I’m referring specifically to the write-ups about conventions, workshops, and shows.

When reports about such events give the illusion of being critiques, trouble is close at hand. After exploring this issue a bit, I’d like to propose a new way of handling news and evaluative write-ups.

First, let me ask you what you think and feel when you read a write-up similar to the following:

“By popular demand, _____ has returned for fifth convention in _____. The event was a great success. Participants flocked from ten surrounding states. The classes were fabulous.

The Saturday night show featured the sponsor’s troupe, which dazzled the audience with their array of fascinating costumes and authentic presentations of exotic village dances. Our special guest was stunning, graceful, and very exciting.

The sell-out crowd gave six standing ovations during the performance.”

Some of you probably stopped reading such write-ups long ago. I’m sorry to have to remind you of their existence. I’ll answer my own question.

If the article is talking about one particular instructor I have in mind, then ‘by popular demand’ probably really means the instructor called up the unlucky sponsor and begged, threatened, or demanded that she be invited back.

‘Flocked from ten states’ could mean that there were ten people at the workshop and each person came from a different state. ‘Fabulous instruction’ could mean that one hour’s worth of material was skillfully stretched into six hours.

The show featuring the dazzling troupe might very well have lasted for five hours with the standing ovations coming when the audience mistakenly thought the show was over and were overwhelmed with joy at the chance to escape.

I don’t mean to be Miss Cynic because actually I’m quite a joyful person usually.

What I mean to say is that many times our reporting of events and the true character of the events are often miles apart.

For more videos of Mary Ellen Donalds Performances please visit her YouTube channel here.